December 12th 2002
By Mike Flaminio
An FM transmitter for an iPod is a pretty well known idea, but too good to pass up on our holiday wish list. The iPod has taken on a life of its own, letting Mac (and PC) users take their entire music collection with them where ever they go. One problem though is you can't listen to it in the car. Wearing headphones while driving is not a good idea and why bring speakers into your car when your car already has its own sound system? The obvious answer is to play your iPod music on your car's radio.
You've got two options, at least until car makers start getting smart and including audio-in jacks in their cars. First is a cassette option, which goes from your audio out on the iPod and plays music through a cassette interface. The only problem with this not all cars come with cassettes any more. But this was my first iPod option, and I found that the cassette device wasn't very loud and added a lot of hiss to my audio. Plus the tape deck kept wanting to switch to side A/B all the time. The next option was the iRock FM transmitter, as I first wrote about a while back. This little do-dad plugs into your iPod (or any audio device for that matter) and plays your music over short-range FM. You just turn on your radio and tune into one of four iRock channels and off you go. The only real disadvantage I found is when traveling a long distance you'll have to switch channels occasionally as you go into areas with interfering radio stations. The iRock uses the low-end frequencies on the FM dial, which are fairly open except in major cities. I'd also be curious to know what would happen if I came across another iRock user on the road, but that has yet to happen.
The iRock runs on two AAA batteries, and they do seem to last quite a while. When I use mine, I usually put a fresh set in and I'm good for the trip. Keep an eye on the "on" button though. I've accidentally left mine on or turned it on and drained my batteries. As far as sound quality, it sound about as good as FM radio, which isn't as good as a CD or direct iPod connection, at least depending on how your MP3s are encoded.
The iRock is available for $25 from Small Dog Electronics.
[Throughout the month of December, Insanely Great Mac is posting gift ideas for the Mac head on your Christmas list, or for yourself. We'll pick out hardware and software items that hopefully will not be too obvious. All gift ideas will be priced below or around $100. Feel free to comment on the items and offer your own suggestions in the comments section below.]